The Indiana Festival Theatre production of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors is physical, farcical, funny, and fast: Its one act plays in just about an hour and a half.
The model for the play is by the Roman Plautus set in Epedamnum, who has exploited the mix-up of a couple of twin masters. Shakespeare set his play in Ephesus and went a step further equipping the masters with twin servants. Adam Noble plays the married hometown master, while Henry McDaniel III is the single out-of-towner. Kelly Lusk, pledged to an Ephesian kitchen maid, and Tim Pyles, very much on the make, are their servants. As the single day of The Comedy of Errors progresses, everyonemasters, servants, wife, kitchen maid and various othersmistakes one for the other in mayhem of merriment.
McDaniel and Noble were exemplary as the initially confident and then gradually more and more perplexed masters. Lusk and Pyles were their equals in emerging confusion. I especially enjoyed Pyles' great speech as he described an earthy kitchen maid in geographical terms. Henry Woronicz was a pathetic figure as the father of the lost twin masters, and a whimsical one as a wizard. Molly Casey was excellent as the angry wife, Kerry Ipema a delight as her sympathetic sister. Fontaine Syer was regal as the queen. Abby Roward was… what else… the Abbess, a very amusing English mangling character. Brianna McClellan was a clear audience favorite as a wh… whoops! a courtesan. And among all those ladies, well, Andrew Brewer was nicely padded out as that earthy kitchen maid.
Director Jonathan Michaelsen and his cast seemed to revel in the opportunity to put a lot of physical action into the production. There are plenty of gags, a good deal of banging about and some neatly executed pyramids. There is even a slow-motion fight scene. The production moves quickly, but the cast's excellent diction, physical communication and pacing get the Bard's lines across crisply.
The language and the action are thoroughly Shakespearean, but there are some nods to the present. The out-of-town master gets directions from his GPS, and everyone is busy messaging, texting, and taking pictures on their phones. Despite my affection for the speeches and the action, one of my favorite scenes in the production is a silent bit of commentary on our present day: A maze of characters walk around on the stage each totally involved with his or her hand-held device. Everyone is totally oblivious to all around them.
Fred Duer's whimsical set in the Wells-Metz Theatre uses a thrust design with plenty of room for the action and even has a gag or two of its own. The varied and efficient costuming is by Jennifer Sheshko. On and off stage accordion music by David DeBrykalski punctuates accents and underlines the action of The Comedy of Errors quite delightfully.
One of the pleasures of coming to repertory theatre is the excellent chance to see actors working, playing different roles. This week there are still opportunities to see The Comedy of Errors and Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! If you attend both, you'll be treated to some delightfully sharp contrasts.
I made up the whole list, but here are just a few juicy examples. An addled wizard from Shakespeare's ancient Ephesus appears in Ah, Wilderness! as a distinguished turn of the century New England newspaper publisher. His son, who's a hunkie Yalie, in Ephesus is a rotund and ribald kitchen maid. An Ephesian Abbess spouting English in a pseudo-German accent with traces of Elmer Fudd, in Ah, Wilderness! appears an eloquent Connecticut matriarch with just the right touch of the broad "a." O'Neill's sweet New England innocent is Shakespeare's Ephesian floozy. Frankly, it's quite fun to run the whole list, but time escapes me.
At the theater for you, I'm George Walker.